In the mixology world, ice is trending. No longer considered an afterthought, this ingredient is taking centre stage as top-tier cocktail bars invest in pricey technology and tools to create premium cubes.

Almost every cocktail calls for some type of chilling, and ice really can make or break a drink. Sweating cubes can dilute a drink—wiping out the flavour profile of a spirit or the nuances of a garnish—so bartenders prefer premium ice that’s relatively dry. Size also matters: the larger the surface area, the slower the ice melts.

Rus Yessenov, director of mixology at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto, points to a Collins ice spear—a long piece of ice usually used in highballs—as an example of what works. “Spear ice takes awhile to melt, so your cocktail will stay cold, but won’t over-dilute,” he says. “One of the worst things is a watery drink.”

Clarity is critical, too. Many bars achieve crystal-clear cubes that are free of impurities— such as air bubbles or dust—by using an industrial-strength Clinebell machine.

“It was originally used for ice sculpting,” says Yessenov. “After three days, it makes a massive 300-pound block of ice by constantly rotating water in an ice bath. Then, it slowly freezes with the water circulating, so you only get the clear ice without the air trapped inside it—which is what makes ice cloudy.”

Typically, this block is then carved into different shapes and sizes. At the Royal York, a massive freezer is reserved just for ice, and each of the hotel’s bars has a storage unit set to slightly below 0˚C, an ideal temperature that prevents ice from cracking when liquid is poured into a glass. The hotel consumes 600 to 1,000 of these cubes per week, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. They also have a crushed ice machine for slushy-style cocktails, and a Hoshizaki ice machine that produces one-inch cubes that are great for shaking or stirring.

Beyond simply perfecting the styles, bartenders like Yessenov are also experimenting with ice by testing out monograms, freezing edible objects inside of cubes and making flavoured ice—helping to solidify ice as a well-crafted cocktail’s star ingredient.

Choose your style

Spear

A long, skinny spike of ice that melts slowly, keeping cocktails cold and concentrated.

Try it in: Gin and tonic.

Block

A large, slow-melting chunk of ice that keeps beverages chilled for longer periods of time.

Try it in: Punch.

Crushed

Great for slushy-style and blended drinks that need some dilution.

Try it in: Mint julep.

Two-inch Square Cube

Used for classic cocktails served over ice to keep dilution to a minimum.

Try it in: Old Fashioned.

Four Essential Tools for At-Home Cocktails

If you already have some bar basics such as a cocktail shaker, strainer and an assortment of glasses, these items will help take your cocktails to the next level.

Silicone Ice Trays

Up your at-home ice game with flexible, non-stick silicone molds that come in a variety of styles. Tip: Use filtered or distilled water for the clearest ice. Or, boil tap water (this will help to reduce overall fogginess of the ice) and allow it to cool before freezing.

Try: Final Touch Square Ice Molds from Indigo, $12.50.

Maraschino Cherries

A good garnish can really make a cocktail shine and maraschino cherries are a staple. Try them in everything from an Old Fashioned to a Manhattan.

Try: Luxardo Maraschino Cherries from The Crafty Bartender, $18.00.

Muddler

An essential tool for properly (and chicly) muddling herbs, fruits and sugar cubes. Mojitos, anyone?

Try: Gold Muddler from Cocktail Emporium, $20.

Citrus Juicer

For cocktails that call for a good hit of citrus, try a hand juicer—you’ll get the most of your lemons and limes, while limiting your contact with the fruit.

Try: OXO Good Grips Citrus Juicer from amazon.ca, $26.99.

This story appears in the April 2020 edition of WestJet Magazine.

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